“They can’t say that we’re not diverse!” the manager yelled while storming across the room. “Just talk to HR and find out how many nationalities and races we have represented in just this branch.”
Full disclosure, that scenario never happened (that I know of). But I can imagine that similar thoughts are going through the minds of company leaders even as many are making an effort to implement diversity programs based on company policies—such as the Rooney Rule. One problem is that having management-instituted diversity programs is significantly different from actually supporting diversity.
“…It is not just about hiring. We can hire as many people of color, or as many women engineers that we can absorb. But I have watched other companies hire many people, and those people leave.”
— Liane Hornsey, Uber’s human resources chief (according to a leaked audio obtained by Yahoo Finance)
To be fair, diversity and inclusion are certainly not as easy as many people make it out to be. Creating a diversity policy is comparatively and technically easy. Having different nationalities in your workplace like in the imaginary example above is also not difficult, but those are just about diversity or the perception of it.
Having an effective diverse workforce that delivers all the promises of diversity requires that it is built on an inclusive culture. This means that everyone has to feel equally welcome (or as close to it as possible).
The problem is that we all have our biases—conscious and unconscious—that make being voluntarily diverse and inclusive even more challenging as it is beneficial.
Of course, you’re biased
“We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us.”
— Annie Murphy Paul in Psychology Today
Many times, we find ourselves judging people we encounter based on where they’re from and the stories we’ve heard or someone we knew who was from there. If the story or person had a positive impact, then okay. Otherwise, it’s an automatic negative first impression. However, positive or negative, the impact of such biases is not good news for diversity and inclusion programs.
Are biases the biggest problem we have to successfully implement an inclusive and diverse workplace? Perhaps. If that’s the case, why don’t we just erase our biases and get along together then, right? Well, it’s not so simple. According to Annie Murphy Paul in Psychology Today, “We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us.”
But if the problem is internal and in all of us, how have some organizations successfully implemented effective diversity and inclusion programs? A “successful” implementation of a diversity and inclusion program is not equivalent to effectively exterminating all the prejudices that all members of an organization have.
IBM’s Perception is Reality whitepaper studied more than 33,000 people from 28 countries and revealed that diversity and inclusion do not imply “unequaled harmony”. Rather, such environments are dynamic and energized to create healthy competition and collaboration. In other words, the prejudices may still be there, they are just minimized and redirected into more productive endeavors.
It is similar to the path that many countries have chosen to take. Reduce the outward expression of prejudice or bias, and focus on encouraging competitiveness and collaboration to promote innovation.
Inclusion on a larger scale
The United States, for instance, has for a long time seen an advantage in being open and inclusive to global immigrants. In recent times, other countries (such as Australia, Canada, and Japan) are following suit. Whether it is to boost their innovativeness or increase the number of people in their workforce.
It’s not that the US is more inclusive. It’s that the country (before President Trump) promoted the benefits of diversity and inclusiveness. Because that’s what the country was built on. On a larger scale than in organizations, people are made aware of the advantages of being inclusive. Also, it’s against the law to not be.
People always ask what the incentive is for organizations. Imagine a Malaysian company that doesn’t have any diversity and inclusion incentives, and only has only the population of the workforce of Malaysians to select from around 80,000 qualified engineers.
If it were more diverse and inclusive, it would have a regional or even global market of talent available to it, that could introduce a range of innovative thoughts that may not be available locally. This is just one example. The benefits of diversity and inclusion to organizations go on.
Identity vs influence
Malaysia is not quite there yet (see the case of Watson’s Malaysia and do a Google search for Dayang Senandong), although there has always been an influx of regional foreigners from neighboring Asian nations. While the country has opened its doors slightly wider to other foreigners in recent times, there’s still some resistance to widespread diversity and inclusiveness in many workplaces.
The primary reason is one that every country with a rich cultural heritage fears and limited jobs—losing its identity and jobs to foreign influences and candidates. Yes, that’s a strong possibility. Another possibility is losing out on opportunities to be more competitive on a global scale while protecting traditions and culture.
The idea is not to allow civilization to erode the norms and traditions (pluralist societies do exist), the suggestion is to balance diversity and inclusion with your existing traditions.
The culture even makes the country more attractive to many foreigners. One example that has so far managed to accomplish this to some extent is Singapore, and it is reaping the innovation and advancements that come with it.
As Other Expats in a foreign country or locals in your own country (and on a smaller scale than nations), overcoming the inclusion challenge depends, to a large extent, on self-awareness, communication and filling information gaps. We first must be aware that we have our biases—that are almost unlikely to ever change—and that everyone has theirs too.
Be open to discussions about diversity, inclusion, race, and equality to ensure that you communicate your opinions effectively. Learn more about the people you work with. It helps for better collaboration and you understand what their challenges are. It also helps to have personal and career goals that transcend any experiences (everything else is just that) along the way.
• Diversity is not inclusion but diversity needs inclusion to be successful
• Diversity and inclusion is not about hiring a token woman or minority
• Having a token “other culture, race or gender” does not count as diversity or equality—if you have an inclusive culture even with this, then surprise!
• Companies have a lot to gain from having a diverse and inclusive team, such as inspiring creativity and innovation
• Everyone is biased and uses stereotypes all the time—yes, including you
• Successful diversity and inclusion don’t mean everyone automatically forgets about their prejudices. It means working together despite the differences—sort of like what the experts say marriage is like
Having a diverse and inclusive workplace is not as simple as having a policy that mandates it. Or even training staff to be more inclusive (I’m not sure how that works). Rather, organizations should encourage an open environment that promotes borderless discussions while transparently communicating the benefits of diversity and inclusiveness.
Technology has also made it easier for organizations to monitor and continuously encourage an inclusive culture. How diverse and inclusive is your company? How do you encourage inclusiveness? Let us know in the comments below.